By Dallas Darling
When Israeli Defense Forces responded with tear gas, rubber bullets, and arrests towards neo-nonviolent Palestinians who were trying to prevent Jewish extremists from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, it was mindful of Pastor Martin Niemoller’s poem: “First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out-because I was not a communist.” Pastor Niemoller was a German minister who witnessed disappearances and atrocities during the rise of Adolf Hitler and Nazism. By the time he tried to speak-out and criticize the Nazi’s, though, it was too late. He, along with millions of Communists, Socialists, Gypsies, Jews, Pacifists and other opponents of nazification, was sent to a concentration camp.
The al-Aqsa Mosque is located at the south end of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The mosque commemorates Prophet Mohammed’s night journey to heaven on horseback. It also contains the minbar, or pulpit, that was commissioned by Saladin around 1190. At the time of the creation of the Israeli state in 1948, the city was divided, but Israel seized all of it in the 1967 Six-Day War.(1). Since then, the al-Aqsa Mosque and Temple Mount have been a source of conflict. Recently, Palestinians also clashed with Israeli forces in the West Bank town of Hebron near the Tomb of the Patriarchs. Their march against Israel’s plan to renovate two holy sites in the occupied territory was declared illegal. Israeli troops fired tear gas and stun grenades wounding several demonstrators.
Although Jews and Palestinians revere the Hebron heritage site, which is the burial place of the biblical patriarch Abraham, it too has been marked with discord. Israeli officials just announced that the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, and the Masjid Bilal ibn Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem, are “Jewish Heritage” sites. Israelis worship in a part of the Ibrahimi Mosque that has been converted into a synagogue.(2) On February 25, 1994, a U.S.-born Jewish extremist, Baruch Goldstein, massacred 29 Palestinian worshippers in the mosque. Some Palestinians have claimed that occupation authorities have prevented prayers and worship in the mosques. Regrettably, Zionist groups in Israel have called for the elimination of all non-Jewish religious symbols and presence in Palestine.
The actions taken against Islamic mosques under Israeli occupation comes on the heels of Switzerland’s referendum banning construction of minarets. Some in Switzerland believe the tall slender towers attached to mosques, where people are summoned to prayer, are unsightly. During the U.S.-Iraq War, a number of Islamic mosques were either damaged or completely destroyed. Images of U.S troops “verifying the kill” of wounded insurgents in some mosques still resonate throughout the world. It is reminiscent too of mosques and museums that were destroyed throughout Palestine in 1948 as part of a policy to destroy national identity. Some mosques were even used as detention centers, while others were converted into synagogues, night clubs, and restaurants.
In her book “Occupied Voices,” Wendy Pearlman details the story of Muna, a Palestinian mother living in the occupied West Bank. During the second neo-nonviolent Intifada, her 15 year-old son was shot to death by an Israeli sniper. Muna said, “We are people. We are human beings. We raise our children, and we are tired. If the world had a conscience, then it would stand with us. Our goal is to free our country so that there are no more settlers in our land, no more roadblocks, nothing to prevent us from going to Jerusalem…I want to send a message to the whole world that our people must live.” Perhaps life begins by first acknowledging and revering those of different faiths and cultures, including their historical and religious sites.
After his release from a concentration camp, Pastor Niemoller was remorseful for not doing more in helping the victims of Nazi aggression. He condemned extreme nationalism, patriotism, and militarism and became a vocal proponent of Pacifism. It seems that these ideologies-along with extreme secularism, materialism and militant types of democracies and corporate globalization that are being forcibly imposed onto others-are still diluting monotheistic faiths and spirituality. In truth, they have become like gods, demanding total obedience to the State and a blind allegiance to the perpetual cycle of violence and retaliation.
As hundreds of Israeli soldiers lay siege to the al-Aqsa Mosque, and as Palestinian youth use the minarets to call for prayers and support, can Pastor Niemoller’s “First they came…” poem be applicable to Palestinians and their sacred heritage sites? If so, “First they came for the mosques, and I did not speak out-because I was not a Muslim. Then they came for the churches, and I did not speak out-because I was not a Christian. Then they came for the Temples, and I did not speak out-because I was not a Hindu or Buddhist. Then they came for the Synagogues, and I did not speak out-because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me-and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
– Dallas Darling is the author of Politics 501: An A-Z Reading on Conscientious Political Thought and Action, Some Nations Above God: 52 Weekly Reflections On Modern-Day Imperialism, Militarism, And Consumerism in the Context of John‘s Apocalyptic Vision, and The Other Side Of Christianity: Reflections on Faith, Politics, Spirituality, History, and Peace. He is a correspondent for www.worldnews.com. You can read more of Dallas’ writings at www.beverlydarling.com and wn.com//dallasdarling. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.
(1) Brockman, Norbert C. Encyclopedia Of Sacred Places. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. p. 130.
(2) Ibid., p. 131.
(3) Pearlman, Wendy. Occupied Voices, Stories of Everyday Life From The Second Intifada. New York, New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2003. p. 84-85.